The T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development at Barrett, The Honors College is hosting an event titled "Health, Wealth and Happiness" on Feb. 8 at ASU Gammage headlined by controversial political figures Dennis Prager, Charlie Kirk and embattled personal financial guru Robert Kiyosaki.
The Barrett-sponsored event sparked debate online, in the classroom and around campus when information was posted to Twitter on Jan. 26 about the ethics of opinion inclusivity and has raised questions among faculty about Barrett's commitment to upholding its values.
In response, Barrett faculty organized a petition to disassociate the event from the honors college. The petition has been signed by 37 out of 47 Barrett faculty members as of Feb. 2.
According to multiple faculty members, they found out the talk was happening on social media which is noticeably different from normal protocol. Usually, faculty are notified of each speaker series and event hosted by Barrett prior to a social media post.
"My initial response was shock," said Irina Levin, a faculty affiliate at Barrett. "...I do not think that the decision to host these speakers at ASU's premier venue is in congruence with Barrett's principles as an institution."
Some Barrett faculty members said they are in disbelief the honors college would host figures like these and give a platform for their views. Michael Ostling, a religious studies scholar at Barrett, said the event was organized without the consultation of any professor or student in the honors college.
"I want to make it clear that each signature on this petition was for a different reason," said Ostling. "...I believe these speakers represent ideas that go against the principles of the ASU charter that stands for inclusivity and not exclusivity."
Ostling said the petition is aimed at condemning the event, and is not aiming to have the event canceled.
According to the event poster, Kirk and Tom Lewis, founder and main donor of the T.W. Lewis Center, will open up the event sharing their thoughts on "human enlightenment." The main event will feature a panel-style conversation between Prager, Kiyosaki and Radha Gopalan, a cardiologist at Banner Health in Phoenix, to "discuss and pose solutions to the human pursuit of health, wealth and happiness."
Prager is a conservative media personality and the co-founder of PragerU, a website that publishes videos and podcasts that promote far-right religious, social and political ideas to a younger audience. He has been criticized for spreading misinformation and using his platform to promote climate change conspiracy theories, transphobia and other similarly controversial stances on various topics.
Kirk is the founder and president of Turning Point USA, a far-right conservative nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting right-wing politics on college campuses, headquartered in Phoenix. Kirk founded TPUSA in 2012.
Kirk and Prager have taken strong stances criticizing higher education. Kirk and TPUSA started the "Professor Watchlist," a project with the mission to "expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom." The watchlist includes faculty at ASU. TPUSA also started "The Dean's List," which grades universities from a conservative perspective. ASU earned a "C-."
Kiyosaki is a "personal finance guru" who sells financial advice through a series of books, videos and other programming. He was sued for up-charging people through his programs by using free seminars advertised as valuable advice to sell increasingly expensive financial training programs and seminars.
While the event is free for students, the T.W. Lewis Center is charging $20 for tickets with the option of upgrading to the $250 VIP package, which includes access to an exclusive cocktail reception before the event.
Nicole Greason, director of public relations for Barrett, said the funds generated by ticket sales will be used to pay to cover the cost of allowing free admission to students.
"Topics and speakers for Lewis Center programs are developed with input from students and others involved with the Lewis Center," Greason said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated funds generated from ticket sales would cover speaker's fees. No speaker's fees are being paid by the T.W. Lewis Center. The story was updated at 8:50 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2023 to correct the error.
Edited by Shane Brennan, Reagan Priest, Piper Hansen and Anusha Natarajan.
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